By Joanna Schimizzi, Hope Street Fellow & Biology Teacher, North Carolina Virtual Public Schools
As teachers head back to their classrooms this fall, they will be juggling many responsibilities. You can just see teachers as they set up their classrooms: laminating posters, moving desks, running copies and making bulletin boards. As teachers spend countless hours getting ready for students, they are often thinking “What matters right now?” Do I spend another hour finishing this bulletin board or do I spend that hour making introductory phone calls home? Every decision teachers are making now is based on what will matter the most for their students this year.
While teachers are thinking about their students, it is wonderful to know that there are those who are thinking about what matters most for teachers. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) first published a report titled What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future in 1996 on how to recruit, prepare and support excellent teachers. Their belief: “A caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child is the most important ingredient in education reform” (NCTAF 10). So, 20 years later, NCTAF has revisited this report to celebrate the successes and reinvigorate the discussion around #WhatMattersNow.
No matter which state you teach in, which grade you teach or how long you’ve been teaching, every summer is a time to renourish and revisit why you teach. As a part of the 2016 release of What Matters Now: A New Compact on Teaching and Learning, NCTAF held a panel discussion to both discuss the most recent findings and encourage a call to action. I had the privilege to read an early draft of the report and give feedback from the standpoint of a teacher. What stuck with me the most was how much thought was given to genuinely developing the most supportive environment possible for teachers. Every summer, teachers across the nation give themselves a pep talk, and to me, this paper was actually an incredibly inspiring reason to add to my list of #WhyITeach. I teach because I know that I can use Biology to not only inspire my students to see cells/living organisms/the environment with a new lens, but also because I know I can inspire them to see themselves in a new light. This report reminds me that I also have to see myself and my role as a teacher advocate in a new light. Just as I pass on the light of Biology knowledge to my students, I have found great joy out of working with new teachers as they begin their journey.
As the NCTAF event progressed, we had two panel sessions with 4 other classroom educators and 4 education policy leaders where we discussed the contents of the report and how it could change the face of teaching. We discussed topics such as National Board Certification, programs where teachers spend a year in residency, intense professional development such as DC Public School’s new LEAP initiative. After the event was over, I was so nourished, so invigorated. Many attendees stayed around for another 30-45 minutes furthering the discussion around #WhatMattersNow. My final thoughts were that I wished that every teacher would have the chance to collaborate, brainstorm and discuss the teaching profession on such a distinguished level. What an opening staff meeting that would be! So, as you head back to your schools and classrooms, don’t forget to nourish your own commitment to the profession – perhaps by organizing a roundtable or even your own state level commission, as the report suggests on pg. 18. These discussions not only advance our profession, but feed our own desire to grow and develop.